American civil rights and individual freedom organisations are seriously worried about the risk of militarising national computer networks
The alarm was sounded when the Obama administration decided to transform the notorious National Security Agency (NSA) - the Big Brother that spies on all the electronic communications of the US population - into a combined forces unit entirely dedicated to cyberwarfare.
Last Friday, Defence Secretary Robert Gates appointed the director of the NSA, General Keith Alexander, as head of the newly formed Cyber-Command. The new unit will be operational as from October, based in Fort Meade, Maryland (where the NSA headquarters are). It will have at its disposal a force of about 90 thousand 'digital solders' working in the four new cybernetics units specially created in the core of the different armed forces (army, navy, air force and marines).
Cyber-Command's objective, explains the Pentagon, will be to extend the United States' combat capability, both defensive and offensive, from the terrestrial, aerial and maritime spheres to the new and even more strategic sphere of computer networks, known as 'cyberspace'.
In concrete terms, General Alexander's men and women will have to defend national computer systems from attack by hackers and, when necessary, conduct ''broad spectrum military operations'' to block adversaries' ''freedom of action in cyberspace''.
For defenders of civil liberties, the 'adversaries' that a mechanism such as this might act against will not just be hackers from China or other countries, but American citizens themselves, already victims of NSA computer espionage and other worrying surveillance programmes launched after the 11th of September 2001, such as the Information Awareness Office (a Pentagon anti-terrorism project, officially closed in 2003 but then taken up by the NSA).
These worries are further borne out by the announced cooperation between Cyber-Command and the Department of Homeland Security, confirmed by Deputy Defence Secretary William Lynn III.
Fears of possible violations of individual privacy by the new unit are also shared in Washington's political and institutional circles, so much so that on the 15th of April this year the Senate Armed Forces Committee called on General Keith Alexander to testify. He guaranteed that laws and individual rights will be upheld, but this didn't convince Senator Carl Levin, the Committee's Chairman, who expressed serious doubts about the legal framework, both domestic and international, that Cyber-Command is to operate in.
According to various commentators and IT experts, such as Evgeny Morozov, the Obama administration's emphasis on IT national security threats to the USA from terrorist organisations or hostile countries has been deliberately exaggerated to justify the creation of new security structures whose real scope will be to increase control and surveillance over the population, especially in 'freer' areas such as the Web - networks which, in the Pentagon strategic reports, are referred to as something "to combat as if they were an enemy weapons system''.